48 Investigates: Should parents test their kids for drugs? - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

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48 Investigates: Should parents test their kids for drugs?

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -

Parenting has been called the most important job any of us will ever have. Yet, that job has never been tougher.

Huntsville psychologist Roger Rinn said most parents don't know to help their kids navigate through a culture that often glorifies drugs.

"A lot of parents don't intuitively understand. They don't know what to do" said Rinn.

Parents are bombarded with sobering numbers about drugs and their negative effects. The CDC reveals deaths caused by drug overdoses are now at an all-time high. Researchers discovered that drugs killed more than 47,000 Americans in 2014 and 723 here in Alabama. In fact, overdose deaths are up 20 percent in Alabama. Rinn said that trend could be reversed if parents pay more attention to the warning signs. 

"If you see grades dropping, you want to immediately look into that, get some help if you can't figure that out. And then, last but not least, if they become belligerent, more angry, more isolated, if you see big changes in their behavior, then you really want to look into it." 

So, here's the big loaded question for parents: If they see something that doesn't seem right, should they test their child for drugs?

"I don't know if I'd go to the extent of saying, 'Here, go on a stick,' but I would want to know who are these people you're hanging out with. How come I don't know them, where do they live, what kind of parents do they have, I want to meet them," said Bill Carlton, a grandfather.

Jennifer just moved to Huntsville with her eight-year-old daughter. Jennifer said she would absolutely test a child if she noticed anything suspicious. 

"Parents, I feel like, need to step up. And they need to say, I have the power, I can do this. This is my child. I'm going to make a change and not leave it unto anyone else's shoulders."

Some parents admit they don't want to hand their child a drug test because of the tension it might cause. Yet, Rinn said parents can't walk on egg shells! 

"I think it's a great gimmick for children to come up with and say, 'You don't trust me!' Well, of course you don't trust them," said Rinn. "Why would we test them? So, it's kind of humorous to me when a kid says that. I think the parent should say, duh!" 

The Limestone County School District isn't waiting for warning signs. Rusty Bates heads up the county's drug testing program and he says students know they can be tested at any time.

"Every month we're telling them, 'We're testing at your school. Be prepared,'" said Bates.

Bates said Limestone County's program is one of the most comprehensive in Alabama. They're testing 7th-12th graders who are part of any extra-curricular activity. Of course, that means sports. However, it also covers students who are in the band, in clubs, even if they drive to school. 

"It's become a deterrent. And that's what we wanted it to be. We didn't want this to be 'I gotcha!' We weren't trying to catch people. It wasn't that manner. We went into this as let's deter kids," said Bates.

If Limestone County students test positive for drugs, they are banned from their activity of choice for 365 days. 

Yet, parents don't have to wait for their child's school to test for drugs. At-home kits can be bought at most drug stores for $10 to $40. The more expensive kits detect more drugs, from marijuana to heroin to prescriptions. 

"Some of them will test for 8, 10 or 12 drugs. Barbiturates, Amphetamines, Benzodiazepines, like Valium and Xanax," said Alan Musso, who's a pharmacist at Star Super Market. "Some of them will do opiods, like the pain pills that are so rampant today." 

You may be wondering, 'If I spend up to $40, how accurate are these drug tests?' The companies that make the tests claim they're 99 percent accurate. If you're worried about a false positive, you can always have your child tested at a lab for around $100. 

If you're an overwhelmed parent, the good news is there are many resources to help you. The Partnership For A Drug-free Community in Huntsville offers many programs, including Today's Youth, Tomorrow's Leaders, aimed at educating teens and young adults on the dangers of drug addiction.

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